A Road To Bastar

New mobile towers, better roads are making a difference in a troubled region.

Written by R.K. Vij | Updated: January 19, 2016 3:07 pm

The tribals of Bastar, a sprawling region of 40,000 square km, have been forced to live a life of isolation for long.

Scanty roads and poor communication have marred the development of the Bastar region. Even the basic right of its men and women “to live with dignity” has been denied, as it is infected with a chronic menace called Maoism.

In the pre-Naxal era, the erstwhile Madhya Pradesh State Road Transport Corporation (MPSRTC) used to ply buses, although the interior routes were not financially viable. After privatisation of road transport in Chhattisgarh, the state government tried to incentivise a few interior routes by exempting them from passenger tax, but private operators did not show much enthusiasm. Further, in order to thwart security forces’ movement into the core areas, the Maoists started damaging these roads. Till 2015, more than 130 roads have been blasted, cut and ultimately damaged and made non-motorable by the Maoists.

The Border Roads Organisation (BRO) was especially deployed in Bastar for a small stint, to construct major roads. Afterwards, the government of India rolled out a new scheme, called the Road Requirement Plan (RRP-I). Although the road situation has now improved due to the dedicated deployment of Central and state forces, full targets (of constructing about 2000 km road in Chhattisgarh) could not be achieved due to reluctant and defaulting contractors. The RRP-II is on the anvil now. The roads department is now working in tandem with the security forces so that more roads can be built.

Until recently, mobile connectivity was very poor in Bastar. Many towers have been blasted by the Maoists in the past. The Maoists often snatch mobile phones from the villagers fearing that information about their movements could be passed on to the police. Security personnel, deployed deep in the jungles, were not able to contact their family members. This resulted in frustration, and even casualties at times, while searching for mobile network. But now, the work of establishing 146 new mobile towers, in addition to the existing 351 (out of a total sanctioned 2,199 for all the leftwing extremism affected states), is in its last phase of implementation.

Most of these V-SAT based towers, although with a limited bandwidth of 256 kbps and effective up to a five-kilometre radius only, have started functioning. More than 10 villages per tower are on mobile now. As a result, the faces of the surrounding villagers and security personnel of the camps have lit up. Although many pockets still remain devoid of communications, the newly established towers are likely to prove a boon in the coming days.

The Raoghat mines project, which includes the laying of a 95-km railway track from Dalli-Rajhara to Raoghat, is another project that will impact mobility and the lives of the people of Bastar. Even if the primary objective of the project is to transport iron ore from the Raoghat mines to the Bhilai steel plant, the railway line will also be used to carry passengers. Despite the Maoists’ heavy protests, the first 17 km of the track is already laid. The passenger train can start rolling any day. The government has also approved the Jagdalpur-Raoghat (140 km) railway track.

In the annual conference of the directors general (DG) of police, held in November, 2013, the DG of police, Chhattisgarh, A.N. Upadhyay, told the prime minister that the villagers of Bastar could not listen to his “Mann Ki Baat” as the radio waves transmitted from Raipur and Jagdalpur (Bastar) were not strong enough to reach them and its strength needed to be increased from 100 KW to 200 KW.

In response, the government has sanctioned three new AIR stations of 100 KW each for three southern districts of Bastar. This will help in increasing the reach not only of national programmes but also programmes in regional languages.

The only viable solution to end Bastar’s isolation is to connect it with the mainstream. The Maoists’ agenda to keep the tribals away from the advantages of development can be defeated only if the direct action of security forces is supplemented effectively with developmental works. Development is the basic right of the people and even the state has no authority to violate it.

The writer is additional director general of police, Chhattisgarh

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